The students of East High School return for one last year together in the highly-anticipated third installment of High School Musical.
Unlike the typical teens of Hollywood creations such as "90210" or "Gossip Girl," however, the Wildcats manage to stay clean in their latest adventure while still having a good time.
As with the first two High School Musicals, taking center stage in High School Musical 3 (HSM3) are Stanford-bound Gabriella Montez and an uncertain Troy Bolton, who try to hold on to each other as long as they can while knowing that they will likely be separated by hundreds of miles after graduation.
As they speed through their senior year, Troy, Gabriella and their friends encounter questions and feelings that most typical high school seniors are bound to face, including those that come with prom preparation, college-level decisions, and inevitable farewells.
The movie will particularly strike a chord with graduating seniors who are experiencing many of the feelings and events presented in the Disney flick.
And like its predecessors, HSM3 is chock full of catchy tunes – almost all of which noticeably benefited from the film's bolstered budget.
The high-definition film quality further gives HSM3 a rich feel that neither of the first two installments were able to give. It may take some time to adjust to, however, for those used to watching HSM on their television sets. But after a while, even seeing something like Zac Efron's face about 30 or so feet wide won't feel as strange as it might have at the movie's opening.
The storyline is also solid and delivers strong, positive messages – including ones on teamwork, friendship, perseverance, and responsibility.
What the movie also does is stick to the formula that has helped the franchise become one of America's most talked-about sensations. HSM3 features characters that most – both young and old – will be able to relate with or recognize from their own high schools, presently or in the past. It also keeps out the junk typically found in not-so-family-friendly features that target teens with sex and violence.
Efron and Hudgens' characters, Troy and Gabriella, do share a noticeably long kiss, which may not sit too well with some conservatives. And one of Sharpay's outfits do show a little more skin than it needed to. But most moviegoers will admit that HSM still strays very little from its wholesome roots, if at all.
And so, it should come as no surprise when HSM3 soars above the rest this weekend. Though R-rated gorefest "Saw V" will try to claw and tear its way up, with teen heartthrobs such as Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Corbin Bleu, as well as a significantly larger budget, HSM3 has very little – dare I say no – chance of reaping success short of phenomenal.
The only issue really is whether this one is better than the previous two?
Bigger doesn't always mean better. But for HSM3, bigger is better in most areas - from the special effects to the big league musical score. HSM3 definitely stands on a different stage from the first two HSMs. But whether HSM3 is proportionally better, given its budget, is up for debate.
One thing is for certain, however. HSM3 is a film many moviegoers won't want to miss, especially all those who have seen the earlier installments and want to be there when the East High Wildcats don their caps and gowns to walk the stage together for the last time.